WiFi is like air or water. It has become so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. We have come to expect it – a steady link to everything happening around us.
In cities, WiFi speed has become a point of competition. Governments are vying for the highest rankings offering reliable and free public internet. It is essential to attract businesses, residents and deliver cost-effective access to information.
A new standard – WiFi 6 – is the most advanced technology available to do all of this. It allows governments to run sensor networks that track the quality of the urban environment, and connect their officers or citizens.
How does it work? GovInsider explains the future of the internet.
What’s wrong with WiFi?
Not all internet connections are equal. WiFi can lag, have security flaws, or simply not cope with large numbers of users. This may still be acceptable at home, but cities have to provide reliable infrastructure that doesn’t let them down.
WiFi 6 changes the game, enabling cities to run super-smart networks of sensors simultaneously. “WiFi 6 is basically the super-fast generation of WiFi,” says Wing Kin Leung, Chief Technology Officer of the Enterprise Business Group at Huawei. “One benefit, of course, is the increase in bandwidth.”
Wing Kin Leung, Chief Technology Officer of the Enterprise Business Group at Huawei
“WiFi 6 is basically the super-fast generation of WiFi.”
Osama Aboul-Magd, who led the work on standards for this new tool, says that “it improves the user experience by four times”. Standard WiFi tech only allows a maximum of 60 concurrent sessions. Beyond this, and “the overall bandwidth drops significantly,” Leung explains. “With WiFi 6, the most conservative estimation is you can have up to 200 sessions” on one node.
Dr. Osama Aboul-Magd, Chairman of IEEE 802.11ax standard task group explains what WiFi6 is
How it works
Why is it so fast? In short, because it’s powered by Artificial Intelligence. It uses machine learning algorithms to automatically optimise and predict user behaviour. For example, there may be a big surge of public users on a Saturday afternoon or a Monday morning at a busy train station. Instead, you could be running a secure network of sensors that are vital for flood management in a city’s monsoon season.
This product is the result of Huawei’s annual research budget of over US$15bn. More than 88,000 employees are working on the future of tech, creating systems that will power our lives for decades to come.
The development history of WiFi
What do I do now?
So now that you know how it works, how can you use it to power your agency? Let’s look around the world for ideas.
First, we’ll look to the Baltics. Nations there have provided vast free WiFi networks to boost their standing as startup hubs and transform their economics. Lithuania’s 2020 Digital Agenda focuses on three key areas: citizens’ tech skills; developing online media and content; and evolving tech infrastructure. Access to reliable, high quality and secure free WiFi plays into all three of these goals.
Its capital, Vilnius, is a budding startup hub in eastern Europe. “We have been consistently punching above our weight thanks to our advanced IT infrastructure, which includes the world’s fastest public WiFi,” its Mayor has said. The city has gone a step further, creating a dedicated ‘phone lane’ for pedestrians using smartphones. Cities elsewhere have done the same: Chongqing in China; Washington DC in the US; and Antwerp in Belgium.
Another Baltic country, Estonia, is known for being a leader in digital government. It launched its first public WiFi in 2001, and today there is free access in nearly every part of the country – including forests, buses and parks. Orange and black signposts mark out areas with WiFi hotspots.
Now we’ll head over the Atlantic and land at JFK International Airport. New York has used free WiFi kiosks as a hub to deliver a whole range of public services. LinkNYC posts all over the city provide access to 911 and 311 calls; interactive maps; and charging points.
The city is now trialling more services to be delivered through this network. New Yorkers can use tablets at LinkNYC kiosks to search for social services nearby, including food pantries, emergency housing, child and health care, and financial aid.
Zooming over the Pacific Ocean, we’ll touch down in Shanghai. This city is building what it says will be the “world’s most advanced public WiFi service”. The city is working with Huawei to roll out WiFi 6 to support much higher quality media and applications, like 4K videos, augmented reality and virtual reality.
The future has already arrived. How will you make the most of it?